Former Delta State University basketball player Lusia Harris-Stewart died on Jan. 18 at age 66, the university’s athletic department announced.
As news spread of her passing, headlines appeared online claiming she was the first and only woman to ever be drafted by an NBA team. That accomplishment surprised social media users, who were confused about why they were only learning her name for the first time despite her alleged historical achievement.
“Learning her name for the first time in death?!?!?!” one Twitter user wrote.
Has a woman ever been drafted to the NBA?
Yes, a woman — Lusia Harris — was drafted to the NBA. But she turned down the team’s offer before she ever had the opportunity to play in an NBA game.
WHAT WE FOUND
Lusia Harris became the first and only woman successfully drafted by an NBA team when she was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977.
But an NBA team attempted to draft a woman several years before, in 1969.
The San Francisco Warriors made history when they picked female player Denise Long in the 13th round. But according to today’s Golden State Warriors, then-NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy voided the Warriors’ selection. Still, she was made the centerpiece of Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli’s newly-created women’s league.
Lusia Harris became the next woman drafted by an NBA team when she was the sixth pick of the seventh round for the New Orleans Jazz in 1977, according to NBA’s draft archive.
According to Harris’ bio in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, she was the first, and only, woman to be drafted by the NBA.
The Jazz invited Harris to try out for the team but she “thought it was a publicity stunt,” Harris said in a 2021 short documentary about her life by the New York Times. “I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Harris said she had recently married her high school sweetheart, and they had already agreed to start a family by that time.
“So I decided not to go,” Harris said in the documentary. She never saw any NBA game time.
Although Harris never went to the NBA, she did have an opportunity to compete in the Olympics. She played in the first-ever Olympic women’s basketball event while she was still in college, and scored the first points in Olympic women’s basketball history, according to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She and her teammates representing the U.S. won the silver medal.